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DITC-Listening: Defence review lends support to US missile shield

Defence review lends support to US missile shield
PM - Wednesday, 26 February , 2003 00:00:00
Reporter: Catherine McGrath

MARK COLVIN: Australia 's long awaited Defence Strategic Review released today would commit Australia to America 's unproven missile defence system.

The Review, which is the Defence Minister's blueprint for future policy, says Australia needs to sign up to the defence shield because of an increased threat from ballistic missiles. The American system has been criticised because of the possibility that it would breach the ABM Treaty, and scientists have attacked its feasibility studies, most recently with accusations that test results have been falsified.
The system would cost an estimated sixty billion dollars or more. Labor has already reacted with anger to the Government's commitment. Chief political correspondent Catherine McGrath reports.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Defence experts around the country and international diplomats based in Canberra are pouring over this document this evening, searching for nuances, changes in emphasis, hints that Australia's Defence policy is changing; and one key point has emerged; a growing interest from Australia in America's missile defence research.

The reason; North Korea is working on technology for new longer range missiles that could reach Australia .

The document says the US is looking to involve its allies in this issue and it will become quote "an increasingly important priority in the 21st Century".

Defence Minister, Robert Hill.

ROBERT HILL: As the world has changed, and particularly so-called rogue states in possession of ballistic missiles and longer-range ballistic missiles, it may be a necessary security, form of security protection for others than the United States .

Now, it's a very complex, expensive, scientifically challenging task, but we've said that there is an issue out there and we need to engage in the issue and determine exactly what place Australia should take within it.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Defence analyst Ron Huisken, from the Australian Defence Studies Centre, is one of Canberra 's leading experts on the US alliance and missile technology.

He says this is a significant shift.

RON HUISKEN: The biggest surprise was the strength of the emphasis placed in the document on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles, and the outcome from that is what I think is a much sharper interest in ballistic missile defence, on the part of Australia, than we've exhibited in the past.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Opposition Defence spokesman Chris Evans moved quickly to slam the concept.

CHRIS EVANS: Labor has always opposed the “star wars” concept, we remain opposed to it, and I'm most concerned by the Government's commitment to get involved with the USA 's “star wars” projects.

That's a worrying development. I'm not sure it's in Australia 's national interest, and it runs contrary to our commitments to be part of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and our efforts to move away from missile offences.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Overall, the document doesn't contain much detail; it's only a small, glossy booklet of 25 pages, and that includes photographs.

It's taken 12 months in the planning, it was sent back twice from Cabinet by the Prime Minister for re-writing; originally the Defence Minister was arguing for 1.5 billion dollars, and that was quickly rejected by the Cabinet.

The new strategic review emphasises that the threat to Australia is now considered to be less serious.

ROBERT HILL: In the near term there is less likely to be a need for ADF operations in defence of Australia , but there is going to be an ongoing need to combat terrorism, to address threats relating to weapons of mass destruction, and to provide for a whole range of tasks in our region.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And that means more involvement in military action led by the United States .

ROBERT HILL: ADF involvement in coalition operations further afield is more likely than in the past.

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